So I’m walking up High Street, in the company of a rather gorgeous lass.
That she is gorgeous has little to do with this post. The main facts in this are: I was in her company, I had no cash on me and, critically: I held a perfectly chilled cup of ice-cream.
Our town, like many others, has a sizeable number of people who are reliant on the goodwill of the public for food and money.
As we edge closer to campus, we’re approached by a man whose opening engagement with us is a request for some spare change.
He approaches from the right, sandwiching my gorgeous friend (whose name shall now be revealed as Palesa) in the middle to witness the interaction which was about to unfold.
We’re asked for money – which we honestly didn’t have.
The next thing that was said caught me completely off-guard and threw me into a bit of a psychological panic.
“I’m so thirsty man, you can just give me the ice-cream,” he said.
Cue: Internal conflict.
* Do I give him the ice-cream?
* Do I ignore him and walk on along?
* Do I flat out refuse?
These questions reverberate inside my head in what feels like the longest 5 seconds.
I found myself just handing over the ice-cream.
But this was no charitable act.
This was me melting like the choc-chip frozen delight in my hand. This was me giving in to a set of “what ifs”. This was me being socially sucker-punched by a cunning piece of emotional blackmail.
Yes, I’m a bit ticked off. It’s not about the ice-cream (though I’ll admit it was amazing). This feels a bit like a toddler tantrum, but there’s reason behind the ticked-offness.
After asking me for the ice-cream, the man’s eyes repeatedly darted from me, to Palesa and back to me. I look back on that moment and can safely say that I was hustled on that boiling Eastern Cape afternoon.
I think he knew. He knew the internal struggle that would ensue from that one request.
He knew that, should I say no, I might have had to endure an awkward inquest from Palesa. “Why didn’t you just give it to him?” she might have asked.
He knew that if I ignored him, the inquest would have taken a different form: “Tyson, the man’s talking to you”
But most of all, I think he knew that if I hadn’t given him the ice-cream, it would have played into the possible tension created by Palesa‘s sympathies. I don’t want to look bad. Not in front of her. And I think he knew how it was playing on my mind as he surveyed us.
I can’t believe I’m writing a mini-thesis about this [If there’s one thing you learn in the Humanities, it’s over-analysing].
What I do believe is that anything you give to someone is good if it is done cheerfully. I know that something as small as ice-cream can make you feel cornered if the pieces of the social puzzle are in place.
And I’ll be the first to tell you that there’s little cheer in impromptu mind games on High Street.